Green is the new Green! Why none of this really matters (but it’s fun all the same)

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. [source]

There is something strangely unsettling, or comforting depending on your viewpoint, about the nature of human culture(s), tastes and trends. It so happens that throughout the entire course of more civilized history, the same topics have been discussed fervently in certain circles, the way they are today in certain circles. The same things have gone in and out of fashion in regular intervals and even the greatest cultural or societal accomplishments would suffer serious setbacks. Revolutions, invasions, fires, plagues all had that kind of power but on a much subtler intellectual level do our social, moral and everyday values fluctuate – rather than following one perfect, smooth line of progression. We are never quite “there” because we cannot make final calls about where that is. In the end, what do we know about tomorrow anyway?

When it comes to fashion or art in general, we’re used to talking about “waves”; plateau shoes and those horrible flared jeans keep coming back ever so often. History repeats itself. Impressionism, surrealism, photorealism – who can say where we’re going? Mainstream furniture design rejected by our parents becomes classy and hip again.

indies

Games releasing this Sept 2013

Of course videogame design and related criticism (professional or amateur doesn’t matter one bit) follow pretty much the same pattern, be it formally or otherwise. Remember how one popular reaction to the big “representation of women in videogames”-debate has been to get more women into the industry, having more women develop, design and write female characters in recent years? All the smart people, the vocal people, the opinion making sites agreed. It’s the answer. It’s the truth.

That argument? So last season! We’re moving past that, as the comment section on one of Gamasutra’s most popular articles of late suggests; why shouldn’t men be able to write interesting female characters? The most acclaimed authors of all time have done? Women write about men all the time? What do you mean, men can’t write good female characters?? You’re not an alien I can’t possibly relate to, are you?

We’ll see more of that soon, I’m sure. Back and forth.

And then there was the MMO community

For a long time now mainstream MMO players, myself included, have driven the genre forward by asking for polish, more accessibility and convenience in game design. When we’re thinking of Ultima Online or Everquest, most of us don’t want to go back. Sometimes we feel like we do, but really….we don’t. At the same time, whenever we’ve gotten used to novelty to the point of saturation, we get nostalgic for some of the old days – yes, even the good old, bad days. Stuff we called broken or annoying suddenly looks appealing. And it’s not just that we want what we don’t have; it’s the realization of a person that has come full circle, that can only fully appreciate in retrospective.  Most noticeably this has happened to me the first time I ever played Minecraft (see second paragraph).

When struck by a particularly powerful wave of homesickness or sudden retro longing, our memory often fails to distinguish, too (wait…was it the “good” or the “bad” type of grind I am missing? Umm..). All MMO players have a hopeless romantic inside of them. Okay, maybe not EVE Online players.

Right now, and Guild Wars 2 has a lot to do with it, I keep hearing how the oldschool questing system of FFXIV A Realm Reborn is “refreshing” or doing it for people. No judgement here, I don’t have to follow suit. It is however a noteworthy and remarkable statement insofar as there is absolutely nothing novel or refreshing about kill ten rats; I can play LOTRO or WoW today and get the same. Yet, that’s not what players are comparing ARR to when they’re calling it refreshing (in its conservatism). They’re comparing to the youngest, the most recent, the closest neighbour in the cultural line of progression: Guild Wars 2 (which made a lot of noise about events).

The wave is on the decline. For a little while. All novelty wears off and becomes boredom – yes, even freedom can get boring in MMOs.

gvp

What can we learn from this? That before all so-called progress, what we really want is variation. We yearn to learn things, master things, then move on to different things. Not just new; it needs to be new and different.

Just imagine the implications and impact for game design and development here, how crucial timing is for developers when launching a brand new franchise.

The King is dead! Long live the King!

Given there are only so many ways in which you can design a quest mechanic (insert any other topic of interest in MMOs) green is the new green after we’ve had a fair taste of purple. While the episode is in progress, the correct question is therefore not “who is right / what’s better, green or purple?” but much rather “what stage of the process are we at?”. It’s when we don’t share the answer to that last question on an individual level, when discussions usually start.

Long live easy access! – Long live hoops and attunements!
Long live FFA grouping! – Long live the holy trinity!
Long live public events! – Long live fetch & delivery!
Long live free to play! – Long live subscriptions!
Long live the casual! – Long live the hardcore!

Who is right? What’s truth in the long run, to the one that lives in the moment? Between yesterday’s heyday and today’s progress, the only truth is constant change. But of course we’ll keep arguing, disagreeing and searching on our blogs and elsewhere, as we should – because it’s interesting, social, engaging and occasionally useful. Most of all, it’s fun and I hope you’ll keep doing it with me as we chase that fickle child of time forever. – Yours truly, Syl (currently still riding that purple).

Truth is a child of time, not authority.
[Life of Galileo; B. Brecht]

12 comments

  1. My key point on the FFXIV questing is not that we haven’t seen it all before but that we have seldom seen it written to such a high standard. I’m a reader far more than a gamer. My degree is in English Literature and I’ve spent the past fifteen years working in a bookshop. The fact that about the only video games I play are MMOs and that MMOs have so far been chock-full of written text is no co-incidence. I play to read as much as I play for any other reason.

    At some point, when I have time to write it, I plan on doing some proper textual analysis and practical criticism on some FFXIV quests to demonstrate what I mean, but at the moment I’m too busy playing to do the topic justice.

    Also, I’m not sure it IS just a cyclical thing. It might be more of a “grass is greener” thig instead. I certainly *imagined* that the GW2 approach to questing would be superior to the traditional version we’re all used to, but that was before I’d experienced it. Once the novelty wore off, which took about 2-3 months, it became apparent that not only was it not superior at all but that it was in fact the same system it claimed to replace only with a good deal of the functionality damaged or removed.

    If GW2 dynamic events and hearts had lived up to what we can now see were the extremely fanciful, over-optimistic pre-release hype then I, personally, still wouldn’t swap them outright for a good, well-written quest. Others probably would but I would have missed being able to read while I gamed sooner rather than later – even in the wonderfully voice-acted and animated quests of The Secret World I still always, always have the sub-titles on and read along in real time.

    1. Yep, I know – you have your good reasons and your reviews tell as much. :) I’m not trying to say that our tastes are exclusively based on the fickle tide of time here, we all have our favorite things in games, our interests and criteria we focus on. at any given time, we apply these standards when judging the games we play – I just think that they change gradually over time too and they’re never set in stone. the way we receive new games is a mixture of all these factors.

      Whether it’s a cycle or ‘grass is greener’, well…it comes down to the same. I think for myself, I am the cyclist more than the other. I tend to know what I like but after a certain point of saturation, I develop tolerance for older stuff again. very slowly. ;) and sometimes you just learn the lesson of what we crave isn’t always what’s best for us longterm.

  2. An excellent post! I’ve gone through the “tab-targetaction-combat” path over the last year. I thought action combat was something fresh for a while but it just makes the same old grindy repetitive combat more physically tiring, it’s not really more dynamic.

    @Bhagpuss I’d agree that the writing in FFXIV is surprisingly good, full of slang and witty banter. I’m not sure I can get past the UI which still feels slow and way too ‘clicky’ for my tastes.

    1. It’s funny how we’re sometimes convinced a new or different mechanic would be perfect, only to realize that once it’s here, it isn’t so great after all. one can only empathize with game devs all the more. :)

  3. Amazing post, and I pretty much agree on everything. People do seek new challenges all the time, and ‘retro games’ seem to be hot again all of a sudden. I definitely believe there are these ‘waves’ as you call them, however, I wouldn’t describe them as much as ‘going back’, but rather as ‘taking old elements, mixing into something new’. The social context isn’t the same as back then, thus the experience won’t be either.

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! and a very good point too; it’s never quite the same situation and there IS always a gradual progress, even if it’s ever so subtle. some of the indie platformers that have come out this year look very oldschool on the surface but they’re definitely more polished in terms of controls and gameplay for example. and a good thing too. ;)

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